Saving Horses

Object Permanence and Horses

A friend explained this concept to me a few weeks ago as I described to him how one of our horses in Sanctuary gets confused when a rider gets on him and “disappears” from sight. A light bulb turned on in me. Diamond is not being obstinate, not obtuse, he genuinely does not understand what has happened to the person who mounts him.

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While that may seem hard to fathom, after years now of working to heal his lameness, we had not been as connected to him as a riding horse. When soundness returned, we were careful to move gradually with him under saddle, making certain the footing for him was cushioned and that he only walked (for months). With another horse in the arena or with me walking along watching him and coaching a rider,  he seemed confident enough and willing to engage. I remained dedicated to getting and keeping him physically sound, without realizing that he had big gaps in his education and perception.

As students tried to take him out on the rail in the arena, away from me or another horse, he would worry. The rein and leg aids seemed to have little meaning to him. I knew he had been at a camp in the mountains, doing trail rides with children before he came to us. Thinking about this, I began to figure out that Diamond was comfortable as a “follower” and he likely only walked down the trails with his nose at another horse’s bum. He did not conceptualize a person sitting in the saddle giving him signals… he followed the other horses.

So, when we do a lesson on him, our success in getting him away from me and listening to his rider came with having his rider talk her directions to him continuously. If he is hearing her verbal signals, he stays connected enough to feel at ease and go where she wishes. If she is silent, he shuts down as if he has dropped an anchor and his confidence evaporates!

I then began thinking about the trainers who bring a young horse’s head and neck around to the saddle as they mount and stand during those first rides. It does effectively keep the horse from bolting, rearing or bucking, especially if one is starting the youngster without assistance – but now, I realize that the horse really sees where the rider has gone!

Oh yes, horses have great peripheral vision and can certainly see that something is there on their sides, but to know that a person is up there… I’m just not sure it comes by default.

We are working with Diamond. Filling in gaps, substituting the leg and rein aids for verbal aids. As time passes, I see him becoming more confident. I like him a lot and I want him to be able to comprehend what is going on, not just act as an automaton from being flooded and losing his desire to live. That’s not the way we operate here.

 

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The Right Way

I think about this constantly. I had some interaction with a woman who was chastising me for using a wand to direct my horse around me (loose in a turn out, no round pen, no lines or ropes) as he circled me happily. She is an advocate of clicker training.

So am I. I worked at a rescue that brought in Draft mares and foals from the PMU industry. There was an aggressive mare there whose daughter was still with her as a coming 3 year old! I used the clicker schooling (marking desired behavior) and was able to accomplish a lot with the mare to make her safer and help her understand us.

I trained Saddle Seat at one point back east; I rode colts off the track aiming to make them H/J prospects while in Florida; I had a blind retired Eventer that I rode! I worked with 3 year old colts and fillies who had never seen a human being until they were chased into stock trailers and unloaded into my barn aisle! I rode most of them eventually, but it was a long journey to get to the trust.

I rode under Charles deKunffy and trail rode my own mules… there are hundreds of ways to do things with horses and all of them are correct IF they do no harm.

You know why people get adamant about a particular style of training or handling or feeding a horse? It is because they’ve had success with it. That’s all. And because many roads can lead to the same destination, many people have lots of successes. That’s very cool!

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I sit here tonight thinking about how new, green horse peeps must feel confused or overwhelmed sometimes (especially with the endless information online) and wonder which is the “Right Way” with horses.

Imagine how confused and overwhelmed horses must feel by our methods! Truth is, horses are beyond remarkable. They can go from “owner” to “owner” and have to relearn or rethink what the signals and responses are from person to person. And try they do – horses want to please us!

If you are working with your horse and you are both safe and happy and understanding each other. You are doing it the Right Way.

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The Healing Stew

Last week I was talking with a friend whose partner was having multiple maladies and could not go to work. She told me about his original problem – he was having leg cramps that kept him up at night. His doctor gave him a prescription for a sleep aid… the sleep remedy gave him anxiety attacks. He was given a prescription to suppress anxiety; which caused dizziness and he bruised his elbow badly after almost falling… so pain killers were added to his “stew”.

All of this was attempting to address the symptoms and nothing was addressing the original problem and what might have caused it – probably dehydration and/or low minerals like Magnesium! I have watched this with horses. Owners want immediate answers, immediate “relief” for the horse, so pharmaceuticals are added and tweaked until the side effects that accumulate become a bigger problem than the original complaint.

Don’t get me wrong – we need to suppress symptoms for our animals, we must be humane. But we must not consider that kind of relief as a cure… it is not. The underlying cause of the problem still exists.

A big old Stew of antibiotics, pain killers, steroids and/or vaccines are cooked up to “attack” a problem. For horses, a Veterinary farm call isn’t cheap, so many procedures are stacked to get the most stuff done for the money…

And the result of this desired outcome of money saved can often develop into much more work to do detoxing the affects of the original medications, even the risk of the horse’s life. “Seven way” and “Nine way” vaccine combinations given at the same time as a dewormer and sedation for dental work… ulcer meds, Cushings meds, tranquilizers for procedures (even for training), injections into joints, chemicals to suppress estrus, the list of possibilities for animals is astonishing. For humans, it’s mind boggling – just watch television – ads for a drug running 10 times as long as an ad for tires (and costing 10 times as much); listing side effects as young families smile and laugh and eat elegant food in a posh house… Then the ads begin from lawyers with class action lawsuits against the drug companies for all the deaths and trauma inflicted. All mixed up in an unhealthy stew.

Decades ago I taught classes at our University about healing horses and healing dogs through Nature. Holistic modalities and the different embodiments of our animals were my focus. I had people constantly asking how I determined which modality to use for an illness or injury – I needed to find a good way to describe my processes and I started calling it “Life Wave Integration”: honoring the Physical, Emotional, Mental and Spirit bodies of our animals. I wrote a book (now out of print), published before the Amazon way, that described this balancing process. It was called “The Well-Being of Pets & Companions”.

In my system, we used herbs and nutrition for the physical body; flower essences for the emotional body; essential oils for the mental body and stones/crystals for the spirit.

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We, then and now, rely upon simple things – Colloidal Silver to kill pathogens; minerals to support bones and muscle and hooves; Homeopathics to realign the bodies… nutrition as medicine and making that as simple and clean as possible.

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I would never tell someone to stop medications, ignore their Veterinarian, change their priorities. If one stops using allopathy, there must be a different plan to follow. You cannot just say, “I’ll never vaccinate again” without being aware of the need for and the methods to strengthen the immune system. Nature provides the methods… the baby’s first “milk” of colostrum gives the antibodies for his protection. Nature knows. The plants a horse instinctively seeks out and eats as a browser will have system boosting properties.

And for us, when we must use a vaccine, we give homeopathic Ledum and Thuja to prevent damages… hopefully. We feed red beets to clear toxins, burdock root to support the liver, calendula blossom for skin clearing, fresh parsley for the kidneys, hawthorn berries for the heart… every day, we choose foods to address the needs of each individual horse. Our horses thrive and heal… we even feed a lot of Magnesium!

 

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Something to depend on…

That’s what the horse’s gut requires. Right now, in New Mexico, we are having some struggles with getting hay, affording hay, the quality of hay…

Since we base all the horses’ diets here on roughage and there is no pasture on this high desert, hay is our most vital component for health, for nourishment. Changing the equine diet suddenly is detrimental to gut health. The only way to avoid digestive disturbance is to have at least one consistent food given every day, religiously.

For us that was Bermuda hay. As a base it is a good choice here. It does not have to be trucked in from a great distance like Timothy and other (nicer) grass hays. It can be in front of the horses “free choice” because they will not over eat Bermuda hay. Up until recently, the quality had been outstanding, each bale the same as another with sweet aroma, soft strands of tender dry grass… our experience for several years.

Lately, we have been lucky to get bales with sticks and clods of dirt in them. We were buying our alfalfa through friends who brought it over from Arizona. The advantage to it over locally produced alfalfa hay was/is the hay is grown all year ’round and there isn’t a rush of nutrients as happens here for the first cutting in spring. Yesterday, I had to purchase 4 bales of local alfalfa for $88.00 to grind for Vega. He is worth it. But, we pulled out some pieces of plastic and I had to examine a couple of beetles (they were not blister beetles) from it. It can drive you bonkers.

We got through a relatively harsh winter on beautiful grass hay donated by loving friends! We had some giant bales (one ton bales) also partly donated, partly purchased by us. It spoiled us! The struggle to unload such big bales and to chainsaw them in to manageable “flakes” was well worth it because the quality was so high.

Of course, all of that has been fed… used up by the first of this month.

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My beautiful picture

So, now I search for a source of the beardless wheat hay I bought last spring that sustained the horses’ good health all by itself. It looks like, come May, there will some affordable beardless (touch wood). Last year, the monthly hay cost was between $1,000 and $1,200. To be able to buy enough hay for 6 months would be a wise and wonderful thing… to gather $7,000 in donations to do so has not been our reality – we’ve been excited to get enough donations on a month by month basis!

Then there is bran, linseed meal, herbs, salt, etc. etc. Not to mention the stress financially of needing X rays or dental work on one of the horses…

So, something we depend on is a grass hay that we can base the horses’ rations upon consistently, day in, day out. We depend upon donors who provide the funds to buy the hay. We depend upon each other to drive to get the feed, unload it, secure it from the weather, feed it… so far, Mark and I pay for all the petrol to do these things. Dharmahorse does not have enough money to cover it and while we barely do, we believe in this Sanctuary.

So, something we depend on, above all else is each other. And that makes everything else possible.

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Pathways

Even when it seems like we are treading water – movement is assured in this life. As I have watched several horses pass over to the next life, assisted with a precious spirit I tried to save and listened to the grieving of others whose animals have departed, I feel honored and humbled by the beloved beings I have known

Whether for decades, years or months, the connection to another is deepened by the knowing of each others’ essence and the realization that the veils between this life and the next are thin indeed. I have known horses I will never forget. The special ones who have been rescued from dire conditions and certain death are the most memorable sometimes. The ones who tried valiantly but could not rally against the neglect and injury are the most memorable always.

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As I look toward the rest of winter and we all retreat a little bit into our personal hibernation of the spirit – using the longer nights and cooler weather to rest a bit more and meditate a little deeper – I can exhale.

So much depends upon the love and awareness we have for our animals. Their lives are literally in our hands and we must do the best we possibly can for them.

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Don’t Panic

Sometimes waiting is the best of answers. Moderation is the wisest way.

As I wrestled, lately, with thoughts of letting my precious Majic go – the horse who came here with me and started this incarnation of Dharmahorse with me – I felt such despair and sadness. He has helped hundreds of people through the years… helped them learn to ride; helped them overcome fears; helped them feel safe; listened to them and made them laugh…

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Majic has been dealing with his mechanical founder for a few years now. He has had great years where he could give rides and gallop in the turn out with Lung Ta. He has had bad times when his metabolism, the weather and the hooves have all seemed to conspire against him. But, he never stops eating; he never stops “smiling”.

The past couple of weeks have been a struggle for him – in cold weather, to boot. We had put down pea gravel for the other foundered rescue (it is really helping her – a 30 year old mare who was a victim of horse tripping). I thought I was being wise when I put Majic in with her (Damaru) and at first the gravel seemed comfortable for him. Then, he lost his footing getting up from a nap as it made him slide and he fell backwards onto his bum, wrenching his muscles.

Back in his old pen with his stall full of shavings, he needed assistance to get up each time from a lie down. To do that, I had to lift him with a longe line around his hind end. Soon, I was in trouble, wrenching the neck and back muscles I had hurt four years ago from lifting my Mum when I cared for her in her last years.

Suddenly, as if he knew I was in trouble, Majic started getting up on his own! His strength is slowly returning… I ordered the Cetyl M supplement that healed my 18 year old dog of hip and back injuries (she lived, mobile, till 21) in the equine formula and can’t wait for its arrival. I am glad I didn’t give up. I am glad I didn’t panic.

A year ago, our precious “Vega” ( a retired Eventer who will be 40 years old next year) was injured when a young hoof trimmer brutalized him for trying to pull a hind hoof away. This brutality consisted of lifting his leg high enough to break ancient bones while fighting with and yelling at him (the most mannered horse I’ve ever known!). Elderly Vega was being trimmed too short and just couldn’t bear it – I yelled “STOP!” but was too late to prevent the damage – by now, I feel sure no bones broke – but we thought for almost 3 months that he wouldn’t survive. Vega was in constant pain, limping on all 4 hooves. We put 4 hoof boots with pads on him. He got pain killers, herbs and homeopathics daily. I cried every night.

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His body was and is strong from a lifetime of being an athlete – thank goodness. He recovered, pretty much. One hip (the one that was brutalized) still gives him some trouble… and I will never forgive myself for allowing it to happen – but Vega forgives me. And I did not panic while he was healing… I took it one day at a time. So did Vega.

So now, when Vega gallops full tilt in his pen (like tonight as Mark is mixing his chopped hay to soak), I thank all the forces in the Universe for his recovery.

I won’t let the young man touch any of our horses again. And I have come to believe that many barefoot trimming practices just take too much hoof… in an attempt to make hooves “look” a certain way, how the horse feels can be forgotten. A horse should feel better after his hooves are trimmed, not worse. Majic’s founder, way back, was the result of being trimmed WAY too short… and I will forever blame myself for that, too; for allowing it to happen.

And, I’m not criticizing anyone or anything tonight. No one is perfect and we all learn from mistakes and miscalculations. I learn stuff every day! And, if I take a deep breath; consult my “gut”; refuse to panic; remember past foibles; follow my heart and use what I have in my “tool kit” for horse care and self care… I can sleep at night and rise each morning ready to do whatever needs to be done. And, as a Buddhist, follow the “Middle Way”, all things in moderation…

Life is good. No panic needed.

 

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The Well of Experiences

Our lives – and those of our horses are filled with experiences. You can think of these as drops like water that fill a “well”. Of a positive or negative nature; these “drops” determine what we expect from current circumstances and experiences!

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Become Trustworthy
This is the main way in which we can support the trust of our horses. We must be the source of positive experiences in their lives and through repetition and building of the confident, pleasant encounters – we actually “crowd out” the negative memories in time.

This is a Natural Path of simple, mutual respect that brings Harmony to our relationship with Horses.

If your horse has mostly negative experiences in his “Well”, with every new experience he faces, his expectation will be something negative! Only by patiently and consistently adding positive “drops”/experiences, can you overcome the initial response of fear, anger or apprehension that is generated by negativity.

And a being whose experiences have been mostly positive will be open and often eager to face a new experience.

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Simple horses

There is this strange “sophistication”, a consistent “polished” look and way about the horses these days. I was looking through old photographs and papers, smiling at the memories of old competition days and the work we did preparing. Old boots shined up and well-worn… bridles that were both “at home school tack” and “show tack”… saddles polished well the night before and that one fancy saddle pad kept clean and spiffy just for the shows.

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I know riders these days whose Spanish top, zippered, posh black boots cost more than the horses I rode in my youth. And that’s okay. Times change. People have different priorities. People have more money (or so it seems).

Now, I grew up in wealth, actually! Yet, my absolute adoration of all things equine left the rest of my family cold. It wasn’t until I fell through a window (beside the entry door at my grandfather’s estate here), severed most of my hand from my arm and died in surgery, then was resuscitated that my parents decided they might ought to get a horse for me… it was worth it 😉

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My father chose a shiny, fancy young gelding over the older, plain, “bomb-proof” gelding I really should have had and the adventure began. Even with my new horse, in 1968, his presence was nowhere near the impression made by the modern mount these days!

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I look at old photos and feel that deep pang of loss… a loss of the simplicity of just loving and bonding and struggling with horses. While I left the competitive world years ago, I watch the “horse world” around me now and wonder about what satisfaction there could be in the purchase of a made show horse, the repetition of drilled coaching, the need for extravagant clothing and equipment just to able to ride into the ring in the first place.

Do the current horse persons find that same tingle of butterflies in the tummy at midnight before leaving for the horse show while they clean tack on the living room floor? Do they laugh out loud with friends at the in gate, nervous laughter to make it easier to face the strangely complex course of fences painted in colors their horses have never seen before?

Do parents sit in the bleachers, as mine did, beaming smiles and offering words of encouragement? Or was it just that my parents were so very glad that I was even alive?

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I feel particularly blessed to have known the “old days” of simple horsemanship; of wanting a horse so badly that I “cantered” all over the place on my two legs with such abandon that I slid across the slate entryway and through a plate glass wall… hand first, thank goodness, not head first!

I love that my Mum and Dad came on board with the whole horse thing and got us a horse van, built a barn (with their own hands) and helped me establish my own stable yard.

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Horses. They healed me (and there was so very much to be healed). They made a life for me. And now I make their lives better, hopefully, as best I can. Since that dynamic childhood, I’ve been homeless. I have lived as a caretaker for a friend’s farm as she died of cancer. I have found a way to buy my own place in 2010, after driving home to New Mexico with everything I owned stuffed into my Jeep. And that home has now become a Sanctuary for horses in need and the people who who love them.

My favorite definition of love is:

“Love is the active promotion of the well-being of the love object” ~ E. Fromm

I love horses.

 

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Wind Horse (Lung Ta) Appreciation and Gratitude

They are not quite the same thing: Appreciation and Gratitude. I appreciate someone or something by seeing the goodness in them. I am grateful, generally, for a quality or act or gift that is offered or expressed by someone.

I appreciate horses. I am grateful to horses.

There are so many ways that horses have served humans and so many ways in which we can now repay them, on all levels.

The concept of “Wind Horse” is ancient and Tibetan. This being carries our dreams to the stars and connects “Earth and Sky”.

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Wind Horses are on prayer flags; dancing in the wind, releasing prayers of Peace and becoming threadbare then merely threads atop the highest mountains of our Earth. It is not simply by chance that horses are chosen to represent our dreams and the best parts of us. Horses have made our dreams possible.

The little horses of Mongolia, Tibet, China – past and present – were the “technology” and transport that built civilizations and cultures. Even choosing to stay as herds in the company of their humans without fences or ropes, they shared and share a rich and difficult way of life. Mares’ milk sustained the nomads and remains their only source of Vitamin C! And respect, appreciation and gratitude require that the mares’ foals get the milk first.

The horses of Europe fought great battles. The horse in the Americas built roads, hauled logs, tilled fields and also fought bloody battles. Miniature horses and ponies went into mines to pull carts of coal or minerals and lived their lives in the dark depths for our benefit.

Donkeys remain “beasts of burden” throughout the planet and mules pack, ride and pull for humanity.

I appreciate equines. I am grateful to equines.
All of humanity is indebted to the horse and his cousins.

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So, I have some specific horses that I am honored to love and, just like having a human soul mate, having these equine soul mates gives me focus, purpose and contentment. The very act of allowing me (and my students) to ride and direct them is a testimonial to the generous equine nature.

There can be days when nothing seems to go right – hooves are tender, ears are itching, backs are sore or mares are in season… these are the times of the greatest lessons!

It is never the horse that lets us down (although we can let our horses down by not honoring their needs or by forgetting that they are just as vulnerable as we are); we only fail in our horsemanship if we fail to learn. Every situation within an encounter with horses is an opportunity for growth and healing… for the human and for the horse. If it is a lesson situation and things are not going according to my plan – I quickly open to the lesson the horse has to teach!

Children who are scattered, squealing and oblivious to the horse will be taught to be focused, quiet and aware by the wise equine who will ignore them until some sense of composure is achieved. I, as the instructor, am simply the “translator” of facts and dialog between the rider and the horse, hopefully helping each attain rapport with the other.

Adults who are pushy or aggressive quickly learn that they frighten horses and become better able to exercise self mastery and calmness to find communication skills that honor the relationship. This can extrapolate to other relationships in their lives.

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All this points simply to the need that exists for human beings to value the past gifts bestowed upon our species by horses and celebrate the new relationships we are forming with them based upon mutual respect, Appreciation and Gratitude!

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The Special Needs Horse

The horse who is blind or losing his sight feels so very vulnerable. He must never be startled by a silent approach followed by a touch. We must talk to him in soothing tones and touch him on the neck or shoulder in a direct and comforting manner.

He should be led wearing a halter with lead shank and you keep your hand touching the cheek piece of the halter and his cheek. In this way, holding the lead in your other hand, you can direct him with a light, steady pull toward you or gentle push away to have him know to go left or right. If the ground rises, raise his head with halter and slow him while speaking to him. If the ground drops, stop him and take one slow step at a time so he can keep his footing. You may need to keep your other hand on his neck also to support him.

When grooming or massaging him, always keep a hand on his body so he knows where you are (starting at his shoulder). Leave his whiskers and feeler hairs on his face long so he can feel before he bumps his face on fences or trees and the like (we do this for ALL horses!). Remove objects he could stumble over, bump into or fall onto. Wrap pipe fences with spongy insulating foam to cushion a bump.

LOOK where you are leading him! Think ahead and prevent trouble.

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The horse who has foundered starts out with a lot of pain and even when healing well will be tender in his hooves for a long time. It is imperative that the coffin bone is supported and there are many pads available for use inside of boots or to be taped on the bottom of the hooves. In a sudden hoof crisis, I will cut a thick styrofoam cooler into a frog shaped piece that goes right on the frog and a circle that covers the bottom of the hoof (placed over the frog cover) that I duct tape in place to support the internal structures.

The foundered or Laminitic horse should be led on straight lines with huge curves to turn around – any stepping sideways can be extremely painful as the stretched laminae tear even more as the hoof rocks sideways! Therapy includes diet details, supplementation to maintain good circulation and many methods to restore the energy flow in the legs; restructuring of the hoof capsule. Hard ground, rough and uneven footing and going downhill can all be torturous for the foundered horse. Protect him.

The horse with back or hip trouble needs a large stall or pen that allows lots of room for lying down and getting up. Deep bedding helps prevent injury for the horse that must “plop” down or throw himself sideways to get up. Unless using it for therapy in healing, backing the horse up is to be avoided since it can stress the haunches and the spine.

Tendon problems need support wraps and spongy, firm ground rather than deep footing.

Bone problems need cushioned footing, no concussion, and a balanced diet (especially minerals).
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